By Miguel Gonzalez
The men’s and women’s cross country teams ran one last time in this year’s NCAA Division III Cross Country Championships held at Principia College in Elsah, Illinois.
Junior Natalie Cooper emphasized how the team has strived all year to make it to nationals.
“We came into the season with the goal of qualifying for nationals as a team,” Cooper said. “I think keeping that goal in our minds throughout the season helped us push through tough races and workouts. Each girl ran extremely well this season. We were able to have a very tight pack of us together during most of the races which really helped us work together and achieve our end goal of making it to nationals.”
At the women’s 6,000-meter race, the five women cross country runners competed against 279 opponents. Cooper led the Lions as she captured 28th place with a time of 21:24. Her performance garnered an All-American honor. She is the first to be an All-American since alumna Martine McGrath (’09).
Head coach Justin Lindsey complemented Cooper’s effort to receive the All-American honor.
“Natalie is a natural competitor,” Lindsey said. “Her focus this year was to become an All- American so the focus was to put her in the best position to do so. She didn’t let anything get in her way this season. During the race she made a strong push with a mile and a half to go and it really paid off.”
Junior Erin Holzbaur followed Cooper and finished in 106th place, clocking in at 22.14. Just a minute later, junior Madeleine Tattory and freshman Gabby DeVito completed the race with times of 23:13 and 23:20 respectively. After, junior Abigail Faith finished and clocked in at 23:56. Juniors Emma Bean and Olivia Shenkman concluded the Lions participation with times of 24:22 and 24:30 respectively.
Cooper says she was more confident with the team supporting her.
“Having the whole team with me made the experience a lot more fun,” Cooper said. “I think having them also helped me before and during the race. I was much more calm going into the race having them by my side.”
At the men’s side, junior duo Quinn Wasko and Matt Saponara ran toe-to-toe against the nation’s best in the men’s 8,000-meter race. Wasko came in 145th place and almost finished below 20 minutes with a time of 20:45. Saponara was not far behind and clocked in at 21:45.
Lindsey was impressed by Wasko and Saponara’s efforts in the race.
“Quinn had a strong performance and made the best of his second trip to nationals,” Lindsey said. “Unfortunately for Matt, he had an asthmatic reaction during the race which slowed him.”
The men’s and women’s cross country teams were highly competitive during the season. From the women winning the conference championship to numerous conference accolades, Lindsey and Cooper believe the Lions’ mindset led them to the most success they had in years.
“We think the biggest achievement for both teams is the strengthening of our pack running philosophy and the national team mindset we’re developing,” Lindsey said. “Winning the women’s team title at NJACs and having them qualify for nationals as a team was a big accomplishment. We also had the most athletes, both men and women, competing at the NCAA champions since 2007.”